Musculoskeletal structure of the feeding system and implications of snout elongation in Hippocampus reidi and Dunckerocampus dactyliophorus


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A thorough morphological description of the feeding apparatus in Hippocampus reidi, a long-snouted seahorse, and Dunckerocampus dactyliophorus, an extremely long-snouted pipefish, revealed specialized features that might be associated with the fast and powerful suction feeding, like the two ligamentous connections between the lower jaw and the hyoid, the saddle joint of the latter with the suspensorium and the vertebro-pectoral fusion that articulates on three points with the cranium. Despite the conserved morphology of the feeding apparatus, it was found that in H. reidi the orientation of the occipital joint is ventrocaudal, the sternohyoideus and epaxial muscles are more bulky and both have a short tendon. In D. dactyliophorus, on the other hand, the protractor hyoidei muscle is enclosed by the mandibulo-hyoid ligament, the sternohyoideus and epaxial tendons are long and a sesamoid bone is present in the latter. These features were compared to other syngnathid species with different snout lengths to evaluate the implications of snout elongation on the musculoskeletal structure of the cranium. The arched path of the adductor mandibulae and the greater rigidity of the lower jaw might be related to elongation of the snout, as it yields an increased mechanical advantage of the lower jaw system and a reduced torque between the elements of the lower jaw during protractor hyoidei muscle contraction, respectively. Nevertheless, most observed features did not seem to be related to snout length, but might be associated with different force-generating strategies.